Taxes and Restrictions Masquerading as Federal Dietary Guidelines

A panel of government-appointed experts has recommended new food taxes, eating less meat, restricting food marketing, and banning some food at the local level.


Last week the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC), which meets every five years to help set federal dietary policies, issued its final recommendations.

The recommendations of the committee, first established in 1990, "provide the basis for federal food and nutrition policy and education initiatives."

Critics, including me, have blasted the current DGAC's possible recommendations. For example, the committee had considered sending text messages to obese Americans. That outrageous suggestion doesn't appear to have made it into the final, 500-page report.

Prof. Marion Nestle calls the report "courageous" and seems taken aback that its recommendations have been viewed as the least bit controversial.

So just what does the DGAC conclude America's food policies should be over the next five years? One of the more inane and controversial DGAC recommendations is to implement a host of new food taxes.

"Align nutritional and agricultural policies with Dietary Guidelines recommendations and make broad policy changes to transform the food system so as to promote population health, including the use of economic and taxing policies to encourage the production and consumption of healthy foods and to reduce unhealthy foods," the committee report states. "For example, earmark tax revenues from sugar-sweetened beverages, snack foods and desserts high in calories, added sugars, or sodium, and other less healthy foods for nutrition education initiatives and obesity prevention programs."

Later on, the report also suggests offering incentives for consumers to buy fruits and vegetables.

"[T]axation on higher sugar-and sodium-containing foods may encourage consumers to reduce consumption and revenues generated could support health promotion efforts," the report recommends. "Alternatively, price incentives on vegetables and fruits could be used to promote consumption and public health benefits."

Even more troubling than the recommendation for new food and beverage taxes—which I've skewered numerous times over the years—is the suggestion that state and local food "bans" have a role to play in food policy.

Another of the report's most controversial recommendations is its claim that Americans should consume less meat.

"Consistent evidence indicates that, in general, a dietary pattern that is higher in plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and lower in animal-based foods is more health promoting and is associated with lesser environmental impact (GHG emissions and energy, land, and water use) than is the current average U.S. diet. A diet that is more environmentally sustainable than the average U.S. diet can be achieved without excluding any food groups."

And then there's the report's blanket support for the USDA's deeply flawed National School Lunch Program, along with its suggestion to "limit marketing unhealthy foods to children[.]"

Last year, I warned readers here to expect the final DGAC report to contain a steady diet of taxes and other intrusive policy recommendations.

"The DGAC is actively dreaming up ways for the government to meddle in your diet," I wrote. "A look through the transcript of last week's hearing reveals the word 'policy' (or 'policies') appears 42 times. The word 'tax' appears three times. And the word 'regulation' appears 13 times. The words 'meat,' 'salt,' 'soda,' 'sugar,' and 'trans fats' came up countless times in the context of things you really should be eating less frequently."

So what's next? The USDA and Dept. of Health and Human Services will consider the DGAC report recommendations, along with public comments, before adopting a final set of guidelines.

Not surprisingly, those who produce foods like meat and soda have vowed to fight the DGAC recommendations. That's good. Consumers can also have their say through April 8. Open your mouth before the DGAC shuts it for you.